Who will be the winners and losers of the war in Ukraine?

Paul Fiolkowski
9 min readSep 5, 2023

I will do this in 2 parts, just because there is a lot of information to convey.

The biggest winners — China, America, France.

The biggest losers — Russia, Germany, India.

The is because I want you to understand how the increase in stock for the winners directly corresponds to a decrease in stock for the losers. Unlike global trade, geopolitics is by definition always a zero-sum game since power in any system is a fixed quantity and always in relation to that possessed by other players. What you can do to others (your power), is inextricably linked to what they in turn can do to you (their power).

A couple of caveats, as with any comprehensive analysis. Firstly, I’m not going to mention Ukraine, because it should be obvious that this war is ging to drastically change the country. Maybe a fatal blow to its demographics? Maybe reconstruction and an influx of immigration in rebuilding? It's impossible to say right now.

Secondly, I am talking here of the medium to the long term (5–20 years from now). As counterintuitive as it may seem, much like in meteorology, it is the immediate future which is harder to predict in geopolitics. Because the longer trajectory is determined by much bigger, structural and hard-to-change factors like population, resources, location, terrain, and political culture. I cannot predict what Sri Lanka or Argentina might do next week, next month or next year, but I can more accurately predict whether they will be a minor, major or global player in 10, 20 or 50 years from now.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s begin with the three winners.

W1. CHINA

China now has the chokehold over Russia’s economy and by extension, her geopolitical decisions.

Thanks to her wanton and unprovoked aggression, Russia will be cut off ruthlessly and systematically from the global financial system, and in a double whammy, the EU over the next decade is going to move as fast as they can away from dependence on Russian oil and gas.

That means that for Russia their biggest customer in terms of exports — of energy, of food, of weapons — is going to be China. They will also be heavily in the hock to China for domestic investment because the EU is systematically shutting up shop in Russia (the Americans never set up shop to begin with).

For any nation, it is never a good thing to have your fate be largely at the pleasure of just one other nation.

No, not even if that nation is your best friend (just ask the U.K. about the price extracted of their imperial ambitions by the Americans, during and after The Second World War), let alone when that nation is someone you never have traditionally liked even when you two were the biggest communist powers during The First Cold War.

The Kremlin least of all places cannot be under any illusion that China will not systematically and without pretense, squeeze every drop of that imbalance in power between Moscow and Beijing. How this is not going to be a relationship of equals. and that if the Chinese at any point threaten to cut off Russian exports, Russia is completely finished and will become a giant version of North Korea.

China is also a big winner since with the sudden and almost cataclysmic overthrow of the geopolitical equation in Europe, a material amount of American military heat and muscle is going to be drawn to that theater. Though not quite as much as the Chinese might have hoped for but I’ll get to that shortly.

In other words, China now has a powerful sidekick (Russia), and their biggest adversary (America) is forced to hold the line in leading fashion in not just one but two large geopolitical theaters.

W2. AMERICA

The biggest benefit to America has been the galvanization of NATO.

It is hard to imagine that it was just three years ago when Emmanuel Macron had called NATO “brain dead”, and with good reason. Because it wasn’t clear whether or even IF the Trans-Atlantic alliance had much reason to exist. That has taken an about turn with astonishing speed in a matter of weeks now, and it’s as if we were back to a situation like in 1949 when the alliance was birthed. That’s because we are.

The Europeans — and Germany in particular — will have to put more into the pot in terms of defense, their honeymoon of living off the “American security + Russian energy + Chinese market” model is officially over. There was never the need to urge the likes of Poland to up their defense spending, but now the possibility is that even Sweden and Finland might join NATO — Russia just threatened both of them with dire military consequences. And at any rate, those two hitherto neutral Scandinavian states will shore up their military capacity rapidly (which they had never let up anyway, much to their credit). France as THE pre-eminent European military power will do likewise. And if German spending on defense stays at below 2%, then she will watch her leadership and prestige in the EU systematically erode away. Because it’s not merely a matter of euros and cents anymore, geopolitics has gatecrashed into the equation and done so with a vengeance.

The credibility of American military intelligence and her geopolitical outlook has also been entirely vindicated since they were the one Western power who was warning repeatedly that Russia was not just able to but was going to invade Ukraine — even as so many others accused them of scaremongering, and of how diplomacy could yet save the day.

If it still isn’t clear by now even as Russian tanks roll into Kiev, that Putin had already carefully planned this invasion months in advance, that all of the trips to Moscow were but a charade to assuage his ego, that how shamelessly Putin and Lavrov were lying through their teeth repeatedly about not wanting to invade? Then such fools are beyond any rescue, as the late Christopher Hitchens once said -

”They should be standing on the street corner. Selling pencils. From a cup.”

But the biggest win for America, which many people haven’t yet realized, is that she won’t have to strain her back trying to corral the EU states together in the conflict against China. For the past few years, the EU attitude with regards to American-Chinese geopolitical competition was very understandably and even very justifiably this -

“We’d rather not get into this. We can just continue to increase our trade with China, we don’t need to pick a side since we’re not anywhere near the region of conflict.”

All of that goes straight out of the window now. How?

With Russia becoming a client state at the mercy of China’s patronage, the equation for the Europeans is grasping this -

“The more money you put into Chinese pockets, the more missiles get loaded into Russian guns.”

This does not mean that the EU will just cut Chinese trade off, no that would be crazy, it merely means that from now on they are forced into the painful recognition and consciousness that the economy of the greatest enemy in their corner of the woods, will be fed and by extension be armed, by China.

So fuel and strengthen Chinese economic growth at your own peril.

No matter how much mercantile interests or energy needs may protest, as the events of recent days have demonstrated so clearly, you CANNOT just seal these domains — trade, energy and defense — into separate boxes and pretend as if they have no connections or significant influence on each other.

W3. FRANCE

Let me count the ways in how this is an unmixed blessing for Paris.

It is hard to exaggerate just how splendidly well-positioned the French are of all of the EU nations today, partly by blind luck, but mostly through prudence and the French way of doing things.

The EU ever since the end of The First Cold War, has been dominated mainly by issues of peace time. With good reason. There was a complacency that Russia was done and dusted with, the main focus was on such matters as trade balances, climate change, immigration, regulations and so on.

As always there are two major powers on the continent — France and Germany. France was the dominant power in combined hard terms (military + economic). But because geopolitics was hardly in the equation at all, economic size was everything and hence Germany was the boss.

All of that has changed so quickly now.

The military factor has come right to the fore and for the EU, security considerations will rightfully trump economic ones. With good reason, because there is no question about prospering when you don’t even survive in the first place! And only a complete fool would trust a security guarantee by Germany, which is not the case with France.

France is also blessed with a fantastic geographical position being at other end of the continent from Russia. So she can afford to leverage her power with less fear of invasion. This can be both good and bad in terms of her motivation, but the good thing is that for all of France’s insecurity and ability to take offence, she is the one powerful nation in Europe who has fierce pride, who is not burdened with historical guilt, and who is not timid about deploying hard power. She is very much like America in those dimensions.

All of those will now be needed and France will take the leading position in Europe with relish. Remember how she was quite understandably very angry at being treated with less respect than she deserved by her allies in the AUKUS alliance — there is no way on God’s green earth that she won’t now grab this opportunity with both hands to take the initiative in Europe. And good for her, the West will be all the better for France deploying her significant muscle locally to defend her continental partners.

The French for all of their sclerotic attitude with respect to regulations, were pragmatic and prudent enough to not set themselves up at the mercy of Moscow with respect to energy needs. France has always been the most reliant on nuclear energy of all of the big nations and boy can they be thankful for it now!

France also does not depend very much for trade on China (not even 5% of their exports are to China). Not being overtly dependent on global trade is a major strength in times of conflict.

It means that the two primary opponents of the Western Alliance — Russia and China — have little to zero leverage over France.

France also has the most well-developed armament industry by far in Western Europe. And it will considerably benefit the her industry as her NATO partners on the continent beef up their forces.

It is important to understand that the French model is autarkic. Autarky means that business and geopolitical considerations are tightly knit together and it is national security considerations which then drive business decisions, not the other way around as it is the model in Germany. The autarkic model for strategic resources that are indispensable for national security and self-reliance, is the model which I have always stridently advocated as a security hawk and hard-nosed realist. And like any trade-off, it is not one without serious downsides. It is unarguably at a disadvantage in times of peace because its insistence on national self-reliance, can be a hurdle to no-holds barred globalization in the interests of mercantile growth. But it is at a decisive advantage in times of threat or war.

France much like America is largely self-sufficient in all of the key strategic aspects — food, energy, armaments and technology. NOT by chance, but as I hope I have demonstrated point by point above, through deliberate design. A geopolitical model which first factors in the resources and needs of your nation, both natural and human capital, and then cohesively and comprehensively drives policies — financial, military, economic, energy — which systematically both fortify your position and also your ability to project power.

I had written before about the French Caesar artillery system, and why it's so effective. France was the first country to deliver such weapons to Ukraine.

Autarky sacrifices some prosperity in times of peace in exchange for far more security in times of war.

Whichever way you try and cut it — military, energy, trade — the events of the last two months have moved the equation on the continent heavily in favor of France.

So that's my forecast for the biggest winners.

In part 2, we'll talk about the three biggest losers.

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Paul Fiolkowski

I am just another American expat, who found that yes indeed, the grass can be greener elsewhere.